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Sunday, February 25, 2018

The stories behind three remarkable moms

This web-exclusive article supplements our May 2009 print feature story, “Oh, Mama!” in which we published the essays of the winning cover mom and the two runners up from our 2009 Mother’s Day cover mom contest.

Keri deGuzman

She was working as a pediatric cardiac nurse in a Boston hospital. He was finishing his training as a heart surgeon at the same hospital. They fell in love, got married, moved to the Valley and talked of starting a family. But after a year of trying to get pregnant, they were forced to acknowledge the fact that it might not ever happen for them. So they started talking adoption.

Keri deGuzman of Paradise Valley talks through this background chronology matter-of-factly, with no trace of sadness. Her life these days is full of joy, full of children, full of purpose. She and her husband, Brian, who is now on the cardiac surgical staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center in Phoenix, decided to build their family through adoption. They did their research, looking into both domestic and overseas options before choosing to adopt a child from Ethiopia. The agency they chose was Christian World Adoption, one of the largest international adoption agencies in the U.S.

“We liked the way the system was set up,” Keri says. The Ethiopian government works vigorously to prevent child trafficking and the organizations that nurture orphaned children and place them for adoption are “so impressive,” she says. “The children receive lots of care and love. They are healthy and well-fed.”

When they flew to Ethiopia to bring home their daughter Jesmina (now 2½), it was love at first sight. “When they placed her in my arms it was like she was always ours,” she says. The deGuzmans settled into life as a family of three and immediately started planning to adopt another Ethiopian child.

Soon after, in the lake region of Awasa, a tiny child was wrapped in cloths and placed in a protected place off the street, near a stream of running water. He was not abandoned so much as set free by a loving but desperate mother who hoped her son would find a new home with adults who were better able to provide for him than she was. No one knows exactly how long he was there before a woman walking back from the water heard him rustling about. She took him to the police station and the child, named Musse (which is pronounced “MOOsay” and means “Moses” in the native language) was placed in the very same orphanage where the deGuzmans found Jesmina.

The orphanage broadcast Musse’s story to supporters as part of a fundraising effort to build a new facility. The deGuzmans were already on a waiting list for a child, but it wasn’t until they traveled to Ethiopia to meet their new son that they realized he was the same miracle child they’d read about.

Poverty and disease have left many children in Ethiopia without families. CWA places more than 200 of these children—infants, toddlers and children up to age 13—with families each year, but many more remain without homes. The deGuzmans plan to adopt two more children to complete their family, says Keri, who always dreamed of being a mom. Her own journey to motherhood has brought an unexpected but welcome sense of purpose and urgency as she’s gotten involved in fundraising and outreach for CWA. She has made it her mission to tell others of the great need for families for the thousands of other beautiful, resilient but homeless children of Ethiopia.

When she submitted her application for our cover mom contest, she signed it, “Joyfully Yours.” The joy she’s found building her family emanates from this radiant young mom whose two small children may never fully grasp the profound implications of their place in her life.—Karen Barr

Brianne Jimenez

We met Brianne, Serenity, Preston and Brianne’s mom Ellen Becher on the lawn of the main Glendale Public Library on a Saturday morning in March. It was a happy coincidence that there is a memorial for the USS Arizona and small statues marking all branches of U.S. military on the grounds because the children’s grandfathers are both veterans. Brianne’s father, Larry Becher, was in the Marines during Vietnam; her husband A.J.’s father was in the Army and fought during Desert Storm.

JimenezBorn in Peoria, Brianne is 20 years old and the youngest of three siblings. (She was born the same year that RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine published its first issue!) Her two older brothers live in Arizona, one in Surprise and the other in Scottsdale.

Brianne met A.J. in 2003 through a mutual friend. They married in 2004, not long before A.J. was deployed to Iraq. He is there now, on his second year-long deployment. When he comes back at the beginning of July, the family will move to North Carolina. In the meantime, they talk every day by telephone, or stay in touch by email. Brianne is studying to become a nurse. She is also a moderator for military moms on phoenixmommies.com.—Mary L. Holden

Elizabeth Currie

The Currie family met us before school on a Monday morning at Rio Vista Park in Glendale. It’s the park of choice for this happy, energetic family of five.

Before mom Elizabeth and dad Sean got out of the car, Nathan and Jacob came running over to introduce themselves. Well, actually, Jacob told us that he already had some sand in his flip-flops! Older brother Matthew had Aleksandra by the hand when he walked up to introduce himself. We were very impressed by the bond this family shares as the boys were very protective with and interested in everything their sister was doing throughout the shoot.

Currie familySean is the one who submitted an application for his wife to be part of our cover mom contest. He attached two photos with his email—one of his family “before” Aleksandra and one of Elizabeth with her new daughter, “taken the first day we met Aleksandra in the orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia.” Sean’s loving tribute really got to our judges. “I love the look in my wife’s eyes in this photo,” he wrote. “It really shows me the depth of her thought at that moment holding her soon-to-be daughter that says, ‘This just feels right!’”

Aleksandra’s adoption took place over 10 months, which, by international adoption standards, is very fast. Elizabeth and Sean left the boys in the care of family members for the two trips they made to St. Petersburg. The first trip was nine days and the purpose was to meet Aleksandra. The second trip lasted for three weeks as adoption proceedings took place in court.

Elizabeth and Aleksandra Currie Elizabeth says Aleksandra is “all girl”—she loves her bracelets and toy high heels and never leaves the house without her purse. The boys’ personalities changed perceptibly when Aleksandra arrived home, she says. Having girl in the house “softened them.” The first night Aleksandra was home, the boys were captivated as they watched her and talked about how cute she looked in her pajamas. They adore their sister, and Sean and Elizabeth are thrilled to have a daughter to go along with his three sons.

Elizabeth used to work at Lifetime Fitness but now she is a certified Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) instructor who teaches self-rescue swimming skills to children from 6 months old to 6 years old in her pool at home. Sean is the executive director of Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, Inc., which was held in March at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa. Proceeds benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Center.

Matthew Currie attends Wigwam Creek Middle School as a 7th grader in Litchfield Park. He is on the school’s drum line and enjoys playing football and basketball. Nathan attends Barbara B. Robey elementary school and enjoys competitive gymnastics and basketball. Jacob attends Hope Montessori preschool and is active in gymnastics, soccer and swimming. Aleksandra doesn’t talk yet, but her brothers chimed in to tell us that she enjoys “hanging out with her brothers,” “electronics,” (mom says she loves to push the buttons on their computer and video games) and “candy.” –Mary L. Holden

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Karen Barr and Mary Holden

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